Thursday, May 31, 2018

Milwaukee and rural Wisconsin keeps losing people while Madison keeps gaining

Though the hassles and other activities around Memorial Day weekend and a personally busy week, this recent story slipped my reaction.
The city of Milwaukee lost residents for the third straight year and has now added just 518 residents since the last census in 2010, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data, which estimate a city’s population as of July 1 in a given year, show Milwaukee’s population decreased by 2,157 from 2016 to 2017, a 0.4 percent decrease.

The drop marks the third straight year Milwaukee has seen population declines after drops of 3,504 in 2016 and 190 in 2015. Those declines have nearly wiped out all of the city’s population gains in the first half of the decade.

DeForest was the fastest growing of the 100 largest incorporated areas in the state during the year, adding 687 residents, a 7.1 percent increase. Other fast growing municipalities included Harrison, up 4.2 percent, and Middleton, up 3.3 percent....

Eleven area municipalities had percentage decreases greater than Milwaukee, led by Shorewood and West Allis, both down 0.8 percent. The other communities with percentage losses greater than Milwaukee included Whitefish Bay, Glendale, Greendale, South Milwaukee, Brown Deer, St. Francis, Greenfield, Sheboygan and Franklin.
Note that outside of Sheboygan, those other 10 municipalities listed with notable declines are all in MIlwaukee County. This goes along with the Census Bureau's earlier reports that showed Milwaukee County lost nearly 3,300 people in 2017.

Fewer people are living in this town in recent years.

And it's not like the rest of the Milwaukee metro area was booming to make up the difference from the people leaving Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee metro counties population 2017 vs 2016
Waukesha Co. +2,396
Washington Co. +729
Ozaukee Co. +252
Racine Co. +1,061

That means the 5-county Miller Park area barely grew more than 1,000 people in all last year. Not generally a good sign for a state's economy when the largest metro area has stagnant population growth.

It's a marked contrast from what we've seen in the second-largest metro area in the state in Madison. The Capitol City had by far the largest increase in population of any Wisconsin city in 2017, with more than 3,100 more people calling Madison home, and Dane County accounted for 4 of the 6 communities with the largest increases in population growth in Wisconsin in 2017.

Likewise, Madison and Dane County have added the most people in Wisconsin for the entire 2010s. Madison had 22,005 more people in 2017 than it had at the start of the decade, which is more than 20% of the state's entire gain in population. 4 of Madison's suburbs have also had notable growth in the 2010s, as have two suburbs of Green Bay, and Appleton have also done well. The only Milwaukee-area community that has solid growth is Oak Creek, with an increase of a little over 1,900 people.

On the negative side, the largest population losses in the 2010s have been in mid-size cities, headed by Racine, and including 2 cities each in Manitowoc and Wood Counties.

Interestingly, Racine actually added people for the first time in the 2010s last year - it was only 63 people, but that beats all the consecutive years of losses. That's the opposite trend of Milwaukee, who the Census Bureau says peaked at more than 601,000 people in 2014, and has lost people in each of the 3 years since, including a significant loss last year.

One last item I want to bring up with these figures is that some Wisconsin communities have lost a much larger portion of their population than Milwaukee or Racine have in the 2010s. On a percentage basis, many small Wisconsin communities have become quite a bit smaller in this decade, especially in the northern and central parts of the state.

In fact, Census Bureau statistics say taht more incorporated Wisconsin communities have lost people than gained them in this decade.

2017 vs 2010, Wis cities and villages. (601 total)
Total population gainers 232
Total population losers 357
Same 12

And losing population is a real problem for communities. Not only does it indicate a lack of economic growth, but it also means that there is likely fewer taxpayers to support the services that are still required in those communities. This will raise the tax burden on all who remain, and that's especially a problem because the state has refused to raise shared revenues and allow communities much of a chance to raise their own revenues to make up for it. So you can see where these communities are in serious danger of a spiraling decline that won't be fixed unless there is some kind of major economic change, or a notable increase in state funding to help them get by.

This kind of uneven population and economic growth is something that has afflicted many parts of rural America along with Wisconsin, but where Wisconsin stands out (in a bad way) is that its largest city and metro area has also flatlined in the 2010s. And no Scotty, blowing the state budget on Foxconn will not solve these population issues (and may make them worse as the rest of the state is disinvested).

Maybe we should follow the Madison model and try to be more like those crazy hippies, because a lot of people seem to want to be part of what's going on in the Mad City. But given that the Wisconsin GOP seems determined to knock down Milwaukee in a cheap attempt to play "divide and conquer" to try to make the mediocrity that exists in the non-Madison parts of the state seem better, it seems like the 414 and the 262 will fail to keep up with the 608 until there's a change from the WisGOPs that have been in charge in Wisconsin for the 2010s.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sorry Ron Johnson, but Wisconsin's worker shortage is largely due to your own WisGOPs

I noticed this statement from one of our US Senators that popped up in a Wisconsin State Journal editorial from today titled "Ron Johnson send strong message to Trump: Wisconsin needs more workers."
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which recently held a hearing to discuss bipartisan calls for more visas for temporary foreign workers.

“There’s not one manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, not one dairy farm, not one resort that can hire enough people,” Johnson told Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, who testified before Johnson’s committee in Washington. “So that really is a pressing need.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, another committee member, agreed the labor shortage was dire. Tens of thousands of more visas are needed to help fill a glut of summer positions, he told Kirstjen.

“They need the folks now. They needed them a month ago,” Carper said.

“We heard literally this week from companies that they’re afraid they’re going to lose their business, because they don’t have people to come to work and do the jobs — their seasonal jobs.”
Certainly this is going to be a problem in a time of full employment in America. And one of the ways to solve that shortage and keep the economy growing is to encourage more immigration to fill positions, both in low-skilled and high-skilled areas. This concept of "growing population and growth through immigration" seems to elude President "Build the Wall", mostly due to racism, but also because he seems to have a mentality that the economy is a limited, zero-sum game where there is only so much to go around (strangely, Trump and much of today's GOP do not feel the same way about government spending and deficits).

But Ron Johnson is looking at the wrong place when he mentions the issues behind the fact that "not one manufaturing plant in Wisconsin, not one dairy farm, [adn] not one resort that can hire enough people." He shouldn't be looking at President Trump and immigration, but instead he should turn his gaze to Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Wisconsin Republicans for why they can't find enough people to work here.

A typical labor shortage happens for two reasons 1. A lack of population growth (or worse, decline), and 2. A lack of sufficient wages and supports to encourage more people to choose to work in a certain area. And these are items that Wisconsin has come up short in big-time since the Age of Fitzwalkerstan came in along with Senator Johnson with the November 2010 elections.

The recently=released Census population figures and "gold standard" Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for the end of 2017 are illuminating for these figures. Let's start with population, where 3 states had populations between 5.0 and 5.7 million people in the 2010 Census - Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. All of these states have had solid population growth since 2010 except for one - Wisconsin.

Population growth, 2010-2017
Colorado +577,958 (+11.5%)
Minnesota +272,679 (+5.1%)
Wisconsin +105,487 (+1.9%)

Guess which one of these states has had Republicans in control of their state since 2010? Yup. Think the legislatures in Denver and St. Paul and handcuffing and tearing down their largest cities the way that WisGOP tears down Madison and Milwaukee? No, not at all, and they're emphasizing quality of life and natural beauty that attracts people to locate in those communities.

Not surprisingly, Wisconsin has also badly trailed these other 2 states in job growth over those 7 years.

Job growth, QCEW Dec 2010 - Dec 2017
Colorado +449,598 (+20.4%)
Minnesota +292,976 (+11.3$)
Wisconsin +202,554 (+7.6%)

And guess what else Wisconsin lags these states in? Paying adequate wages in its largest cities to attract workers.

Average weekly wages QCEW Dec 2010 - Dec 2017
Denver area
Denver Co, CO $1,334 (+3.7% vs Dec 2016)
Arapahoe Co, CO $1,268 (+3.4%)
Jefferson Co, CO $1,112 (+2.4%)
Adams Co., CO $ 1,075 (+5.4%)

Twin Cities
Hennepin Co., MN $1,335 (+3.0%)
Ramsey Co., MN $1,202 (+3.8%)

Waukesha Co. $1,082 (+0.8%)
Dane County, Wis $1,070 (+3.5%)
Milwaukee Co. $1,056 (+1.5%)

So yes, perhaps encouraging more visas and immigration in general can help to solve the problems of Wisconsin employers in finding enough workers to fill their positions. But what Ron Johnson and other WisGOPs won't admit is that they are also to blame, for the regressive "divide and conquer" mentality and wage-suppressing economic policies that drive talent away from Wisconsin. Instead, they choose other mid-size (blue) states like Minnesota and Colorado where they can enjoy life and get paid well.

This trend of stagnant population and wages won't change in Wisconsin until there is a change of leadership in the Capitol. That's just a fact.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Access journalism and "he said, she said" reporting helps Trump, GOP. It's gotta stop

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the act of the New York Times' White House beat reporter Maggie Haberman. She is Exhibit A of how "legitimate" media has failed so miserably in the Age of Trump.

NO DAMMIT, NO! When someone says a statement that is provably false at the time it was said, they are lying. And their repeated untrue statements should not even be reported on, except in the context of "President Trump continued a false claim of _______"

But there's a pretty good reason why Haberman refuses to call BS on the president and the rest of the lying scum that seems to be a part of TrumpWorld. Because she stands to make a lot of money from hanging around TrumpWorld.

At the same time, it illustrates how absurd Haberman's "I don't know what's in Trump's head" dodge. What's the point about writing an "insider's view of the White House" if not to give a reader an idea of what goes on inside's Trump's head? Which makes the answer obvious - Haberman needs to maintain access to the President and his staff, and therefore, she can't tell the full truth about what's going on, lest she be shut out of interviews and other information that helps her write articles and make her book more interesting.

When she was called out for her obvious lack of courage to call out Trump's lies, Haberman then tried to blame others for pointing it out, and claimed that doing so makes Trump stronger.

How is that OUR fault for recognizing where you are falling short? Here's the difference, Mags. Righties call out the media's motivations when they report facts that they don't like, or things that hurt their fee-fees and otherwise make them uncomfortable. While on the left, many of us are call out media because of what they are choosing NOT to do. Too many are failing to inform their audience of facts, and not calling out things that are not true, especially when the media members KNOW the facts and know what Trump and other Republicans are saying is not true.

And that can lead to people being uninformed, or worse, MISinformed. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has consistently pointed out that the greatest damage to our country from Trump's lying isn't that the president is dishonest. It's that the vehemence of the lying and the refusal of the media to call it out makes it harder for the average person to have a clue on what the facts truly are.

This leads to a "He said, she said," style of reporting that makes the average dope say "Who knows what the truth is?" And that gives a huge advantage to right-wingers who are not constrained by facts or decency in their statements.

For example, there was this damning finding from a poll last week.

"Has Robert Mueller found criminal activity?" Is not a debatable question. People HAVE ADMITTED to breaking the law in this probe. The fact that it is unknown for a majority of people that were questioned in this poll is proof that the media is failing to do its job in reporting facts.

And we need to use our voices to not only hold the right-wingers to account, but also to watch over and call out a media (and frankly, the DC Democrats) that aren't doing THEIR JOB in making the righties pay a price for their lying, deception, and destruction. Or else we all will lose much more than an agreement on facts.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Yeah WisGOP, I do want Foxconn to fail. It's the best outcome for Wisconsin

When word leaked out this week in the Asian financial media that Foxconn might be changing what types of screens it would make in Wisconsin, and might be reducing the size of its investment in Wisconsin, it caused a mini-firestorm in the state. Naturally, Foxconn tried to walk back that story by saying "Oh no, we're still moving ahead as planned." But let's be real. That word wouldn't have leaked out in the Asian press if there wasn't truth behind it, and it's even understandable that Foxconn would want to switch product lines to better match consumer needs.

However, it also means that Scott Walker and WisGOP were selling something to taxpayers last year that won't be what Foxconn is going to give us in the end. Not in products, and likely not in the amount of jobs (if this thing ever gets built at all). Since the public already hates the Foxconn, the WisGOPs now have to try to talk their way out of this mess for the next 5 1/2 months to avoid getting their asses kicked at the ballot box in elections over it.

Which explains the GOP's new tactic - blaming Democrats for wanting Foxconn to fail for political advantage. Bradley Foundation/WisGOP mouthpiece Christian Schneider illustrated this with a piece of bilge titled "Why Wisconsin Democrats cheering for Foxconn to fail. Hint: his name is Scott Walker. (PS- Don't spend any money the J-S until they fire that lying shill).

It's a tactic straight out of 2006-era GOPs saying "If you don't support the Iraq War, you don't support the troops!", and "You're just Bush-bashing!". It tries to shout down any analysis of whether the GOPs' plans and oversight of the project is worthwhile. As you can see, Schneider was merely doing his job of repeating the lines of top WisGOP politicians.

(Psst, Scotty- there won't be 13,000 jobs. That was a number your consultant made up.)

Of course, this is the same GOP that turned away major tax savings for expanded Medicaid and a 100% federally-funded train project in the early 2010s solely out of spite for the Obama Administration. So of course these guys can't comprehend opposition to something beyond pure politics.

Sorry, but the real reason we hate the Fox-con is that it is costing us billions of dollars to create some temporary jobs, while shortchanging the rest of the state for years to come. It's simply not worth what we're spending, and not worth it to steal resources from so many other parts of the state to do it. A great example came later in the week, within 10 miles of the Foxconn site, as another Racine County community found out it will have to wait to see their Main Street get fixed.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced the planned reconstruction of Highway 20/83 has been delayed until 2019.

In an online post on Wednesday, the village stated, “This one-year push for work by the DOT is due to budgetary constraints related to project work in FY 2018.”...

One of the DOT’s requirements is for municipalities to update their infrastructure before road reconstruction, which is why Waterford is tearing up downtown this summer.

The repavement plan in place assumed the DOT would reconstruct the road a few months later in the fall of 2018. Now it looks like it’ll have to hold up for a year.
Huh, think they might have had money for this project if Walker's DOT hadn't decided to funnel $134 million to upgrade the roads around Foxconn?

The delays in Waterford illustrate the two fundamental dishonesties in Walker's and WisGOP's defense of the Fox-con.

1. That somehow only the Foxconn plant could result in these jobs being added, and that other work projects around the state and work for firms aren't being reduced because so many resources are being sent to the Foxconn-sin region. The delays in the project in Waterford is but one of many examples in both the public and private sector where someone is losing because Foxconnn is getting all of the attention.

2. That governments have infinite amounts of money, and that Foxconn isn't hurting the chances of other priorities being funded. If the DOT is already saying "we now don't have the money to complete Highway 20-83 in Waterford this year," what's going to happen in the next budget, when quite a bit of the $1.35 billion in tax incentives to build the Foxconn plant will have to be paid back? Bob Lang of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau already has said that both the General Fund and the Transportation Fund are facing $1 billion budget deficits for 2019-21, and it defies belief that other programs won't be hurt because of the Fox-con.

Of course, this isn't even taking into account the environmental damage that will occur due to Foxconn's exemptions from state and federal law, the debt that Racine County residents will be paying back for years because of their own local subsidies to Foxconn, and the ugliness of having people driven out of their houses to make way for the needs of one company. Much of this can be reversed and mitigated if Foxconn never comes to Wisconsin.

So yes, it would be much better if we had the fiscal and economic flexibility to have more projects and programs be completed around the state instead of having all the funds be sent down to the southeastern corner of the state. Which means if you value the overall health of the State of Wisconsin, then you should hope that Foxconn pulls out of Racine County, before this crooked boondoggle becomes even more of an albatross around the necks of Wisconsin taxpayers. And before the rest of the state loses even more business as a result of Walker and WisGOP wanting to put all of our eggs in the Fox-con basket.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Send us your huddled masses yearning to be free." 2018 GOP says "Not anymore"

Was hanging at home watching the Brewers and checking the Twitter when I saw the news about this atrocity crossing the wires.

With the crime against humanity going on where ICE agents are separating children from their parents as the parents try to seek asylum in America....AND THEN LOSING TRACK OF THE KIDS, this segment from John Oliver earlier this year seems sadly relevant.

As Oliver notes, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the one in charge of these immigration courts, and can give extra review to cases himself. The Keebler Elf is also responsible for the "zero tolerance policy" that started earlier this month which is resulting in the separation of parents from their children into separate detention centers.

Congress could hold hearings and end this policy tomorrow (or at least make Trump veto it), but Paul Ryan has actively tried to discourage a discharge petition to bring immigration issues to the floor. And why? Because Purty Mouth Pau-lie would rather have Republicans be the only people in Congress that decide issues (locking out 45% of Americans represented by Democrats) and caring more about holding onto the votes of racists rather than follow the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want this issue to be dealt with humanely.

This story pissed me off so much I gave some bucks to the Wisconsin ACLU this morning, and recommend that you do the same. And maybe our Dems in Congress can defund the unaccountable ICE in the next budget (which needs to pass before the next election) and this time SHUT IT DOWN AND KEEP IT SHUT DOWN if the GOPs won't do the right thing. And those are the legal measures to take, but I sometimes doubt those will be enough to start to eradicate this evil of Trumpism and the authoritarians that are today's GOP.

Oh, and look who's dropping the ever-so-subtle dog whistle while this is going on.

The bottom line is that the GOP is a party that is fine with racist, xenophobic policies, because they feel it's the most likely way they can win elections. Which makes ALL GOPs complicit, from the donors to the puppet politicians to gutless voters who try to insulate themselves from their complicity by saying "Well, I don't believe that." Silence is acceptance at this point, and all must be outvoted and shunned by the decent people of this state and the country.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the United States is rapidly becoming what we are supposed to despise. We crush the hopes of those who want to make themselves better in a new land, and a class of royalists at the top that think they can impose their will on anyone else while avoiding accountability to the rule of law themselves.


Friday, May 25, 2018

WisGOPs running on their record + Dems turning out to vote = bad news for Fitzwalkerstanis?

A couple of intriguing articles give a hint of how and why Wisconsin Dems could win big in the 2018 elections, and recover a lot of the power they have lost over the last 10 years.

The first article is in the New Yorker from Benjamin Wallace-Wells, is titled “Will the Tea Party Era End Where It Started—In Wisconsin”, and notes how our state has been the prototype of GOP “governance” in the 2010s.

Wallace-Wells notes that this approach doesn’t try for bipartisan consensus to solve real problems, but instead uses tactics and demonization to score political points, and bends rules to grab and retain power by any means necessary. And that approach is something that has distressed many longtime Wisconsinites, including a certain former State Senator who was run out of office in 2014.
At the outset of the twenty-first century, Wisconsin was known for a certain social steadiness. Chilly and saturated with lakes and small towns, it mostly escaped the entropic pressures of exurban sprawl. Its self-identity was not as caught up in industrialization as that of some other Midwestern states, so it was spared some of the psychic pain when manufacturing jobs went overseas. But after the election of the Republican Governor Scott Walker, in 2010, the year of the Tea Party, Wisconsin’s politics grew far more vivid, and bitter. A few weeks into his administration, Walker moved to take away the rights of most public employees to bargain collectively—the notorious Act 10—provoking weeks of enormous rallies at the state capitol and a statewide recall election, which Walker survived. After that, the partisanship only escalated—Walker oversaw a redistricting effort so aggressively gerrymandered that it is now before the United States Supreme Court, a voter-identification law that is said to have disenfranchised two hundred thousand people, and a campaign-finance regime so lax that the current Republican primary for U.S. Senate is widely seen as a proxy war between two billionaire donors. Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, told me, “What Wisconsin gave the nation was the model where you could take a very tiny electoral margin and act as if you had won an overwhelming victory, and the other side had no say at all.” Dale Schultz, a Republican who was formerly a leader in the state senate, told me that the early days of the Walker administration “created a malaise that hangs in the state to this day.”

Schultz retired from politics three years ago—when I reached him, he was in his home town of Richland Center, in southwestern Wisconsin, helping a friend paint a house for rent on Airbnb—and I called him because I was trying to understand the sped-up pace of elections in the state. Already, three months before the primaries and six before the general election, the airwaves in the state are full of partisan invective. “Elections in Wisconsin now are over in June,” Schultz said; it was a function, in his view, of the way campaign-finance laws and norms had changed in the Walker era. Schultz said that ordinary state-senate races now regularly receive the same level of campaign contributions as races for governor did at the beginning of his political career. “All that money comes in early, and it all goes to negative advertising about your opponent, and so by the end of June the election’s over.” Even in state-senate races, where only fifteen thousand total votes might be cast, Schultz said, it has become common for three-quarters of the spending to come from independent groups. The effect has been to turn a politician’s attention to the early competition for outside money and big donors’ favor. “Now you don’t go around your district until after Labor Day, and that’s for show,” Schultz said.

Schultz’s sense of abandonment was broad. He told me that, under Walker, the state’s Republican Party had (in its embrace of vote-suppressing voter-identification measures, in its comfort with deficits and third-party campaign spending, in its passage of budgets that eroded institutions in rural parts of the state, in its unembarrassed partisanship) lost any claim to being either Republican or conservative. “What you have is a bunch of nationalist know-nothing anarchists,” he said.

"We'll just divide and conquer. And you will give me big money."

Wells-Wallace notes that there are some signs that the GOP’s “Cheddar Revolution” of the 2010s is crumbling, as the fallout from having know-nothings and the puppets of oligarchs in charge of the government is becoming evident.
…In May, Paul Ryan, one of Walker’s chief political allies—who, as Speaker of the House, has done more than anyone to channel the spirit of 2010 into a more or less organized politics—announced he was retiring, at only forty-eight years old. When I called conservatives in Madison recently, I heard a general trepidation. “The energy on the Democratic side, especially among women, that’s real,” one senior adviser to a statewide Republican campaign told me. “There are Republicans who think that Walker will save them, that they can play the same tune again, but they don’t realize how jammed up they are.” Others have more existential concerns. “The Tea Party energy is more or less gone,” a longtime conservative insider in Madison told me. In January, a Democrat won a state senate election in a Trump district; in April, another Democrat won a statewide election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by twelve points. The conservative insider told me that Ryan’s retirement was a sign that the jig was up. “These political movements usually come and go in decade-long cycles,” he said.
Wells-Wallace also talk to newly elected Dem Senator Patty Schachtner and Dem guv candidate Tony Evers, and both noted that the Fitzwalkerstanis’ underfunding of services such as health, schools and roads over the last 7 years are really hitting home for people in many parts of the state.

Dems are also fired up to vote these GOPs out, which means that it might be difficult for the GOPs in power to duplicate the combination of voter suppression and Dem apathy that lowered turnout in Dem-leaning cities, and allowed Donald Trump, Ron Johnson and other GOPs to pull off surprising wins in 2016.

As Michael Leon notes in In These Times, officials in many of those larger Wisconsin cities are now going around the GOP's roadblocks to help people find a way to cast their ballots, and it likely helped to improve turnout in this April's Supreme Court race.
Madison’s pioneering voter outreach effort began in 2012, after state Republicans passed the first of dozens of voter suppression laws. Designated “ambassadors” from the City Clerk’s office train voting rights workers for groups such as the Dane County Voter ID Coalition who reach out to seniors, students and civil rights groups….

Madison has seen high turnouts since 2016, when the One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen federal court decision swept away much of the Republican voter-obstruction legislation, including the mandate that cities have only one early voting site. The ruling applied statewide, but Madison has done the most to expand voter outreach, increasing early-voting sites to a state-record 15 stations.

“It appears that all of this proactivity paid off,” notes Barry Burden, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In November 2016, Madison saw high voter participation while overall state turnout declined. This April, Madison’s turnout roughly doubled that of the state at large, helping to propel progressive Rebecca Dallet to a landslide victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

Other Wisconsin municipalities contacted the Madison Clerk’s Office to use the city as a model. Kenosha, the state’s fourth-most populous city, adopted a similar voter ambassador project in 2017 and recorded a 26 percent turnout in April, almost doubling the April 2017 turnout.

Milwaukee is opening 20 voter registration kiosks at public libraries across the city, and will increase its early-voting sites from three to eight for the general election.
Face it, if Wisconsin Republicans really thought their agenda was something that most voters agreed with, they’d welcome the chance to expand voting access, so they’d have a legitimate mandate with buy-in from more Wisconsin voters.

Instead, Wisconsin has become a notorious spot for voter suppression measures in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. That tells you the GOP puppetmasters know in their hearts that Wisconsinites really don’t approve of what they stand for, so they have to resort to tricks and “divide and conquer” deceptions.

Let’s finish up by returning to Wallace-Wells’ final paragraph, where he notes that what might do in Walker and other WisGOPs in 2018 are the same things that brought them to power in 2010 – that things don’t seem to be getting better with these guys in control. Combine that with general personal dislike for the people in charge (both in DC and in Madison), and you can see why these guys are in big trouble.
The resistance taking shape to Walker and to Trump has two modes, civic and partisan, which, though they often overlap, are nevertheless distinct. The main innovation of the Walker era has been in its partisan extremity, and yet this aspect of his administration looks to be on the ballot this year only indirectly. The final judgment on the Walker era may turn not on the ways in which it has changed the tenor of politics but on the more quotidian matter of the ways it has underfunded the gravel appropriation for Wisconsin’s rural roads. And yet the Democratic opportunity is obvious: this situation allows them to ask voters to judge the Walker years without demanding that they admit to having made a mistake. Driving back from the northwest, in between calls to donors, Evers mentioned some political road signs he’d seen near Wausau that attacked Walker for pothole-ridden roads. “They’re calling them Scott-holes,” the liberal said, with some evident pleasure. He was imagining the most basic of political arguments—that the other guys held power, and there was still so much that was wrong.
If the articles from Mike Leon and Benjamin Wallace-Wells are any indication, it may be that the jig is up on the GOP’s grift in Wisconsin, resulting in blow back in the upcoming elections in this state for what they and other Republicans have done (and/or failed to do). Let’s make it so.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Minnesota passes Wisconsin for jobs. No righties, this isn't working

For some reason, I had missed that the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (aka, the more thorough, “gold standard” job report) started pre-releasing their overall figures a couple of weeks ahead of their main report, beginning with their year-end 2017 totals this week.

Which explains why the following headline from Wisconsin Public Radio snuck up on me, and I didn’t see it until this morning. “Minnesota passes Wisconsin in total jobs, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.”
University of Michigan Labor Economist Donald Grimes said what stuck out to him was that Minnesota had added more jobs than Wisconsin every year since 2010.

"The fact that it's every year is somewhat remarkable," Grimes said.

The numbers show that in 2017, Wisconsin added a total of 28,696 jobs. That translated to a growth rate of about 1 percent, which ranked 27th in the nation.

Minnesota, by contrast, added 35,925 jobs in 2017 for a growth rate of 1.3 percent, which ranked 18th.
What’s sad is that Wisconsin’s 27th place standing in rate of job growth is an improvement over the rankings in the 30s that have been the rule during Scott Walker’s Reign of Error. But it’s not anything to be proud of, not only because it makes for 26 straight quarters of job growth in the bottom half of the US, but also because 2017 continued a trend of lower job growth in Wisconsin that started in early 2016.

The most amazing part about that chart to me is that the fastest rate of job growth was reached in March 2011 – the month that Act 10 was jammed through the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

There isn’t a breakdown into various sectors of jobs, like public sector vs private sector or manufacturing (that’ll come in a couple of weeks), but we can certainly evaluate the change in total jobs between the two states. And Minnesota has lapped Wisconsin in that stat since Walker and Dayton took office.

Total job growth, Dec 2010-Dec 2017
Minn +292,976 (+11.34%)
Wis. +202,554 (+7.59%)

In addition to the gap of more than 90,000 jobs, this stat means that Minnesota has a rate of job growth that’s more than 50% faster than Wisconsin over these 7 years.

The “gold standard” report also showed that Wisconsin didn’t gain as many jobs as the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development claimed it did when it originally reported their December 2017 figures back in January.
Based on preliminary data, Wisconsin added a significant 40,200 total non-farm jobs and 43,500 private sector jobs from December 2016 to December 2017, including a significant 11,500 manufacturing jobs. The state also gained 1,300 private sector jobs from November 2017 to December 2017, including 1,200 construction jobs. November private sector jobs gains were also revised up by 2,100, showing that Wisconsin gained a total of 4,900 private sector jobs from October 2017 to November 2017.
That’s a whole lot more than the nearly 28,700 jobs that the QCEW report is saying for 2017, and it continues a disturbing trend of Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development overestimating job and labor force growth in recent years.

The last thing that grabbed my attention was the job growth in the 6 largest Wisconsin counties, which was in this report. Milwaukee County had its best growth in 2017 out of any year in the 2010s (+4,233), but that’s damning with faint praise, as Milwaukee County’s 2017 growth rate of 0.9% was still well below the US rate of 1.5%, and came on the heels of losing nearly 1,500 jobs in 2016.

Over the last 7 years, Milwaukee County added jobs at less than half the rate of the rest of the state, which helps explain the Milwaukee metro’s lack of growth in income in recent years (as I mentioned last week). By comparison, those crazy hippies in Dane County have set the pace with Minnesota-like job growth in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Job growth, largest Wis counties, Dec 2010-Dec 2017
Dane County +11.73%
Waukesha Co. +9.75%
Brown County +8.44%
Wisconsin state +7.59%
Outagamie Co. +7.15%
Winnebago Co. +5.10%
Milwaukee Co. +3.73%

By comparison, the 13.54% job growth in Hennepin County, Minnesota (where Minneapolis is located) even outpaces the boom going on in Madison, and the Twin Cities exurb of Washington County is even faster- at 16.41%. As the labor economist notes in WPR’s article, Wisconsin’s largest metro area is underperforming Minnesota’s largest one, and maybe it’s time to learn something from it.
"You need to focus on why Milwaukee is doing so much worse than Minneapolis-St. Paul and how you can be more like Minneapolis-St. Paul," Grimes said.
Might it have something to do with a State Legislature in Minnesota that doesn’t try to handcuff the state’s largest metro area and economic engine, and actually invests in 21st Century transit and quality of life instead of beating up on the Cities in the name of “divide and conquer” politics that stir up the rubes? Naaahh, that’s just crazy talk.

One other suggestion- maybe Wisconsin’s big cities could try to pay the big-league wages that are given to workers in the Twin Cities and the Chicago area.

Average weekly wage, December 2017
Hennepin Co., MN $1,335 (+3.0% vs Dec 2016)
Ramsey Co., (St. Paul) MN $1,202 (+3.8%)

Lake County, IL $1,411 (+1.0%)
Cook County, IL $1,283 (+2.6%)

Waukesha Co. $1,082 (+0.8%)
Dane County, Wis $1,070 (+3.5%)
Milwaukee Co. $1,056 (+1.5%)

Walker and his media flacks may try to spin these numbers away, but there’s no way you can ignore that Minnesota chose a very different path than we did, and we have fallen behind as a result. I’ll repeat a common theme of mine – you would never accept 7 years of the Packers being a 6-10, 7-9 team that always finished behind the Vikings, so why would we accept it in something more important like economic performance?

Not that we shouldn’t have figured it out before, but those numbers give even stronger proof that it’s time for a change in leadership Wisconsin.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

WIsconsin Policy Forum notes explosion in wheel taxes under Walker

Jason Stein recently left the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to join the Wisconsin Policy Forum - a newly-merged organization consisting of the organizations that used to be known as the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Public Policy Forum. Yesterday, Stein and the rest of the Policy Forum produced a brief on the increasing use of wheel taxes throughout the state, and it received quite a bit of media attention.

The policy brief notes that only 4 Wisconsin communities had wheel taxes in 2011 (when Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power), but by the end of 2017, that number was up to 27, with local wheel tax revenues rising from $7.1 million to $20.7 million in that time.

Stein says one of the culprits is that state aids have failed to keep up with the costs for local communities to fix their roads. state funding for the two aids programs rose 15.5% from 2007-17, from $412.0 million to $475.7 million... When adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), however, spending for the two programs declined 2.3%, or $11.3 million in real dollars... (A recent legislative audit noted that, in general, state highway costs have tended to rise more rapidly than the CPI.)
What's not mentioned is that all of that funding increase was under Jim Doyle between 2007 and 2011. Since Walker took over, those local aids were $5.3 million lower in 2017 vs 2011, and $46.5 million less when adjusted for inflation (-9.25%).

The Policy Forum notes that one of the reasons for those cuts was because there were limited dollars to go around in the Transportation Fund, as the Walker Administration and WisGOP Legislature have refused to raise state gas taxes or most registration fees over their time in office. In addition, Stein adds that other state-imposed tax restrictions on local governments have meant that road spending often have had to take a back seat to public safety concerns.
Meanwhile, local governments in Wisconsin have few local revenue options other than the property tax, which has been tightly restricted since 2011. Though local governments are allowed to raise property tax levies only for new construction, there are exemptions for debt service and a few other circumstances.

One of the consequences of the tighter revenues appears to be less spending on local streets and roads. When we surveyed officials from nearly 500 cities and villages for our League of Wisconsin Municipalities report, The State of Wisconsin Cities and Villages 2017, many said they had shifted their spending priorities away from street maintenance to police and fire services since the start of the 2007-09 recession.
That led to a lot more of this across the state.

So local officials had few other options but to impose the wheel tax to fill in those needs. Stein ends the policy brief by noting that these wheel taxes may become even more common in future years, given the lack of revenue options that local governments have, along with the lack of money that they are getting from the state.
As wheel taxes become more common, policymakers may want to consider whether they are the ideal tax source to support local roads. It may be argued that by taxing vehicle owners, the wheel tax links the costs of local roads to users. Conversely, some might argue that road users also include commuters and visitors and a consumption tax (such as a sales tax) might be more appropriate. Such a debate cannot occur because state law does not permit municipalities to levy sales taxes, and most counties already have implemented the optional 0.5% sales tax.

As more local governments consider the wheel tax, some state officials have already suggested additional limits on it may be needed. In the meantime, however, its use may grow as long as local revenues are limited and demand for local road maintenance and improvements expands.
Note that Stein mentions that a local sales tax may be a way to make those who use the roads be more likely to pay towards those roads. What's interesting is that a few Wisconsin communities do get the chance to levy their own sales tax to pay for the extra services that come from tourism, in the form of a premier resort tax. This enables some communities to get around the tight revenue limits by using the proceeds of that sales tax to use for roads, police and other services that they otherwise would not have the tax base to support.

It seems timely to mention this as Memorial Day weekend and its related tourism looms, as the list of places with this premier resort tax are some of the first places you'd think of when it comes to "Wisconsin tourist towns."
The Village of Sister Bay: 0.5% (effective July 1, 2018)
The City of Rhinelander: 0.5%
The Village of Stockholm: 0.5%
The City of Eagle River: 0.5%
The City of Bayfield: 0.5%
The City of Wisconsin Dells: 1.25%
The Village of Lake Delton: 1.25%
My question is- why do only the small towns get the ability to raise taxes on tourists? If we're not going to give significant increases in state aids to make up for the cuts that have happened in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and we're not keen on seeing more potholes and more wheel taxes, then why don't we give local communities the freedom to impose their own sales taxes to make up the difference?

For example, Milwaukee County attracts the largest amount of tourism dollars in the state, with nearly $2 billion in direct spending last year. Wouldn't it be nice if they could use a part of that spending and not have to put in a $30 wheel tax on its residents (with another $20 paid by people who live in the City of Milwaukee)?

Maybe the voters of this state will be smart enough to elect a new governor that has a better plan than the deterioration we've seen during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. But no matter the outcome in November's elections, something different needs to be done, because as Jason Stein's report for the Wisconsin Policy Forum reiterated, the current method of funding local roads isn't cutting it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A date with some Queens

Sometimes more important event take precedence over a daily rant. Tonight, we have one of those events.

With the temperature nearing 80 starting tomorrow, it's time to start thinking about Summer. And about feeling good.

And about nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Esctasy and alcohol.....

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sure, Wisconsin incomes have risen in the 2010s. We're still losing

Here's an example of something that sounds pretty good, especially if you don't have any context.

Wow, a 16% increase in income! Things must really be thriving in Wisconsin!

Not really, and not just because Walker was using nominal and not inflation-adjusted dollars. A report that came out a few days after Governor Walker released this piece of cherry-picking showed how that increase in income for Wisconsin isn't really anything to brag about.

Let me direct you to the Bureau of Economic Analysis' report for state and metro incomes. This report now goes through the end of 2016, and what’s interesting about this report compared to the state personal income reports that were released earlier this month is that it adjusts for the cost of living in certain areas of the country, using a statistic called Regional Price Parities (RPPs).
The RPPs are calculated using price quotes for a wide array of items from the CPI, which are aggregated into broader expenditure categories (such as food, transportation or education).

Data on rents are obtained separately from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The expenditure weights for each category are constructed using CPI expenditure weights, BEA’s personal consumption expenditures, and ACS rents expenditures. The broader categories and the data on rents are combined with the expenditure weights using a multilateral aggregation method that expresses a region’s price level relative to the U.S.

For example, if the RPP for area A is 120 and for area B is 90, then on average, prices are 20 percent higher and 10 percent lower than the U.S. average for A and B, respectively. If the personal income for area A is $12,000 and for area B is $9,000, then RPP-adjusted incomes are $10,000 (or $12,000/1.20) and $10,000 (or $9,000/0.90), respectively. In other words, the purchasing power of the two incomes is equivalent when adjusted by their respective RPPs.
That adjustement helps Wisconsin in these rankings, as Wisconsin’s RPP of 92.8 means that incomes in our state goes further in this survey than it does for the US as a whole. And our low population growth moves us up compared to many other parts of the country when it comes to figuring out income growth per capita, even if low population growth is a limiting item when it comes to job growth or other economic measures of well-being.

Wisconsin performed fairly well by this standard in 2016, having their inflation-adjusted incomes rise by 1.3% vs 1.1% for the US as a whole. But we badly lagged the country in the 4 years before, which correspond to when Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power in 2011, Wisconsin ranks a subpar 5th in the Midwest for both real income growth, and real income growth per capita in that time. We also trail the figures for the US in general.

So yet again, THANKS OBAMA for helping us along.

Worse is what things look like at the local level, especially in Wisconsin’s largest metro area of Milwaukee. Between 2011 and 2016, real per capita income in the Milwaukee metro area barely grew at a rate of 1% a year, far behind other Midwestern metropolitan areas, and the US as a whole.

By comparison, Madison and the Twin Cities had incomes grow nearly twice as fast as Milwaukee (even with both metros increasing their populations at a faster rate), and the “declining” Chicago metro area had per-capita income growth nearly 3 times as fast as Milwaukee – even after taking into account the higher costs to live in Chitown.

The disparity in income growth means that both Madison and the Twin Cities has zoomed past the Milwaukee metro area for income per person during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and Chicago has nearly caught the Brew Town area as well. And if you’re wondering about the cities in the rest of Wisconsin, they pay even less than Madison and Milwaukee. While most grew during the Obama Recovery/Age of Fitzwalkerstan, the gap in per-capita income for all mid-size Wisconsin metros (other than Sheboygan!) is still between $2,200-$9,700 from the big 2 of Milwaukee and Madison.

The last item to note in this report is that much like the rest of rural America, the non-metro Wisconsin lagged when it came to income growth compared to what was going on in the bigger cities. To begin with, incomes were already less in rural Wisconsin in 2011, even with the lower cost of living. But the gap widened from $3,000 in 2011 to $3,700 by 2016.

One positive note is that while rural Wisconsin had income growth below the state average and the US as a whole, they did outpace the “forgotten people” in other parts of rural America, particularly in 2015 and 2016.

But the only type of person that would promote these income figures as proof that Walker’s and WisGOP’s policies are making Wisconsin prosperous would be someone who thinks the average citizen is too stupid and sheltered to recognize that most of the Midwest and the nation were rebounding better than we were. That goes double for the pro-Walker oligarchs at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), who continue to give big money for a corporatist agenda that is leaving Milwaukee in the dust for both incomes and for job growth.

As usual, the only saving grace for these income figures is the growth that continues in Madison, where education and wage levels are higher, and there is a quality of life that encourages more talent to come there. You’d think we’d try to emulate that successful liberal town, and kick the right-wingers out that have been holding back the rest of the state.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sure, Walker's $100-a-child giveaway is cynical + bad economics. But take the money, folks

I caught this "news" story from over the weekend by Wisconsin State Journal columnist Chris Rickert titled "'Dirty' money? Madisonians grapple with GOP's pre-election tax rebate." The premise of the article is whether "those people in liberal Madison" are going to sign up for the $100-per-child pre-election bribe from Gov Walker and the Wisconsin GOP passed into law earlier this year.
Madison mother Alisha Steele, 43, says her family will probably apply for the tax rebate Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature agreed to dole out in the months leading up to what is expected to be a difficult election for him and other Republicans this November.

But “I have really mixed feelings about it because, sure I’ll probably apply to get $200 for my two kids, but it feels” — and here she pauses — “dirty.”

On the first day parents of children under 18 years old could apply for the credit, some in a part of the state known for its liberalism in general and antipathy toward Walker in particular expressed similar reservations, while acknowledging that a hundred bucks — or 200 or 300 or 400 — is still real money.

“My husband’s perspective was, like, he rolled his eyes about it,” said mother-of-three Katie Crokus, 39, of Verona. “He’s like, we’ll take it. ... But isn’t that money better spent? I mean it’s $300 — we could probably apply it to myriad of other things that would be more valuable to the state.”
And Ms. Crokus's perspective is correct. Are there many better uses for the $130 million or so that this one-time $100-a-child giveaway will cost? Absolutely. For example, you could fill in all of the cuts to state highways that are resulting from the Walker Administration's decision to funnel $134 million to upgrade numerous roads the Foxconn-sin region. We also could use that $130 million to speed up the long-slowed I-90 project from the Illinois state line to Madison - I just drove this highway and 2 rough lanes are not acceptable to deal with for the next 3 years.

But you didn't want to spend the money to get this done

$130 million could have also been used to:

1. Restore the funding cuts given to the UW System in 2015, allowing for tuition to be frozen and for the UW to continue to offer competitive salaries.

2. Giving permanent funding increases to poorer K-12 school districts instead of continuing to leave them behind and continually be stuck between raising taxes through referendum or closing schools cut staff 8 years after Act 10 was supposed to solve these fiscal issues.

3. Banking the money to make sure we actually do have money left in the bank in June 2019, and to reduce the significant structural deficits that loom on both the General Fund and the Transportation Fund for the 2019-21 budget

And I'm sure there are many more ways to use $130 million that help a lot more Wisconsinites. But c'mon parents, take the money.

There's nothing wrong with taking a tax cut because of short-sighted, cynical GOP policies that you hate. - that's the fault of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. You can only play the game under the rules that exist today, and in 2018, there is no honor in making yourself worse off by playing by the rules you wish we had, so why would you hurt yourself by doing so?

It's not like that one-time tax rebate is going to change your buying habits or economic security, so it's not a move that's going to do much (if anything) to help Wisconsin's economy for 2018, especially in a time of rising gas prices and rents. But you're certainly more than welcome to give it to a cause and/or politician you agree with - after all, that's what right-wing oligarchs do all the time with the tax cuts their puppet GOP politicians give them. What we can do is to elect politicians in 2018 that stop putting us in a position where to stay afloat, we have to wait for the peanuts that trickle down from the corporatism that controls Wisconsin's economic policy.

Instead, let's have an economic policy that is designed for more people beyond a few key constitutencies or donors, with a time frame for an economic strategy that lasts longer than a few days of headlines or getting a few more coporate donations. It's time to get a Governor and Legislature that ynderstands that the best way for Wisconsinites to provide for their families is through good wages, stable communities, and continued job growth, not a one-time check for $200.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Dark Lord (and massive prison OT) cometh

Hanging with friends and attending my first Dark Lord Day at 3 Floyds Brewery in Indiana. AssuMing I survive it, I'll have more to say later this weekend.

I do have one comment- No surprise that Walker/WISGOP idiocy is now biting taxpayers in the ass to the tune of $42 million in OT at the state's prisons and hundreds of vacant positions. You mean when you take away people's bargaining rights and continue to underpay guards while having 20th Century "lock em up" policies, you have understaffing issues? SHOCKER!

Add it to the pile of reasons the Age of Fitzwalkerstan must end, I guess. Have fun wherever you are at (all 5 of you!)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wisconsin with record April....and job loss. Be skeptical

The third Thursday of the month usually means a new Wisconsin jobs report, and sure enough, it gave our Governor a talking point on his re-election campaign.

Here are the toplines from the press release from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and I’ll italicize one bit of news that is likely as buried in your local press as it is in this report from Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April 2018 was 2.8 percent, a decline of 0.1 percent from the March rate of 2.9 percent. The April decline is the 3rd straight month that Wisconsin's unemployment rate has declined or stayed the same. Wisconsin's labor force participation rate also increased over the month by 0.2 percent to 68.9 percent. The number of people employed in Wisconsin also increased by 8,100 people setting a new record for the state with 3,086,100 individuals employed. The year over year increase of 42,700 people employed is statistically significant according to BLS methodology.

•Place of Work Data: Based on preliminary data, Wisconsin has gained 11,000 total non-farm jobs and 8,800 private sector jobs over the last three months. Over the month, Wisconsin's total non-farm job number declined by 1,000, and private sector jobs declined by 3,100. Over the year, Wisconsin has gained 27,900 total non-farm jobs and 26,100 private sector jobs, including a statistically significant 13,700 manufacturing jobs according to BLS.
We lost 3,100 private sector jobs last month? Seems kind of important, and we also had March’s private sector jobs total revised down by 700. Granted, some of that can be explained away by the record snows for April (the biggest job “losses” were in Construction, which lost 2,000 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis despite having 6,400 more people working overall).

But likewise, the household survey which lists the “record 2.8% unemployment” counted +7,000 in the work force on a seasonally-adjusted basis, while actually having -6,900 for the non-seasonal figure. Seems odd that you’d expect more people to be working in April, but also expect fewer people in the work force at the same time.

Those figures also go with DWD reports which show that unlike the rest of the country, the Walker DWD claims more Wisconsinites are looking for work than at the end of 2017, and even more found jobs in the first 4 months of this year.

Wisconsin household survey, Apr 2018 vs Dec 2017
“Employed” +28,700
Labor Force +17,300

The payrolls part of the report (which gives total jobs) isn't as strong, but is still pretty good.

Wisconsin payrolls survey, Apr 2018 vs Dec 2017
Change in all jobs +19,200
Change in private jobs +15,900

If those numbers are accurate, it seems like things are going great in Wisconsin, and you can choose to believe that if you want. But past history shows that these gains will likely be lowered once they are subjected to the “gold standard”- the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW).

We saw this same routine last year, where Walker’s DWD was claiming that the jobs market was off to a roaring starting in 2017, and it turned out not to be the case.

Change in all jobs Dec 2016-Apr 2017
Walker DWD +27,600
Revised total +11,200

Change in private jobs Dec 2016-Apr 2017
Walker DWD +27,000
Revised total +14,900

Change in “Employed” Dec 2016-Apr 2017
Walker DWD +58,800
Revised total +22,200

Change in Labor Force Dec 2016-Apr 2017
Walker DWD +32,400
Revised total +10,900

With that in mind, take a look at what the DWD was spinning reporting this time last year.
Place of work data: Based on preliminary data, the state added a significant 37,600 total non-farm jobs and a significant 29,300 private-sector jobs from April 2016 to April 2017. Wisconsin also added 7,500 private sector jobs and a significant 14,800 total non-farm jobs from March 2017 to April 2017. Other significant month-over-month gains include 5,100 jobs in Manufacturing.
However, when those figures were benchmarked to the “gold standard” report 2 months ago, the April numbers ended up being a lot smaller.

April 2017 Wisconsin jobs, DWD vs revision
April 2017 change in all jobs
Walker DWD +14,800
Revised total +400

April 2017 change in private jobs
Walker DWD +7,500
Revised total -2,100

Apr 2016-Apr 2017 change in all jobs
Walker DWD +37,600
Revised total +17,900

Apr 2016- Apr 2017 change in private jobs
Walker DWD +29,300
Revised total +21,600

In addition, who in their right mind believes over 50% of the state’s private sector job growth in the last 12 months has been in manufacturing – a sector that accounts for less than 1 in 5 private sector jobs? As recent history tells us, those alleged gains in manufacturing jobs are also not likely not hold up.

Interestingly, Walker’s DWD usually would include information on what they sent to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for that QCEW report along with the regular jobs report that came out today,a nd the tiem frame would show the year-end amounts for 2017. But that wasn’t in today’s press release, which reminded me that that they also hid those numbers this time last year. Why? So they could dump them on the Friday before Memorial Day because they revealed that 2016 had by far the worst job growth of any year Walker has been in office.

Will we see another bad performance for 2017, with another year of job growth below 1%? Figures that we’ve seen so far from the QCEW make that seem likely.

So will we see Walker’s DWD pull another pre-Holiday weekend news dump to bury those facts? That also seems likely. At this point, I’m going to assume any good jobs news from Walker’s DWD will be BS until we get backing data from a non-WisGOP source.

Either that, or DWD Secretary Ray Allen and the rest of the DWD higher-ups need to show their work and explain why it keeps getting the numbers wrong in a way that’s helpful to their boss in the Governor’s Office. And I hope I'm not the only one asking to see the spreadsheets and survey results at this point.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Walker's "0%" budget instructions somehow mostly meaningless AND damaging to roads, higher ed

I wantyed to take a minute to break down what our Fair Guv gave in his budget instructions yesterday.
All agencies should assume there will be zero growth in overall GPR appropriations in each fiscal year during the 2019-21 biennium, and specific program needs should be managed within this general constraint.

Note: Exceptions will occur only for K-12 school aids; required basic cost-to-continue needs for the state's institutions, i.e., the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health Services institutions; entitlement and related assistance programs in the Department of Health Services (e.g., Medical Assistance), the Department of Children and Families' Division of Safety and Permanence and Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services, and the Department of Workforce Development's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; and housekeeping adjustments like standard budget adjustments, fuel and utilities, and debt service.
Sounds like tough budget constraints to keep costs in line and identify base needs that need to be met.

Except those departments and programs that Walker said wasn't subject to the 0% limit are huge ones. K-12 school aids will be over $5.9 billion of General Fund money by themselves in the next fiscal year, and Medical Assistance is another $3.1 billion. Then throw in another $1.1 billion for Corrections and include all other debt service, which will take $517 million out of the General Fund next year (with more likely to follow in 2019-20).

Put that together, and we are already above 60% of $17.5 billion in General Fund spending for next year that is allowed to have their costs go up.

What may be worse is what DOES get frozen out at 0%. It includes a UW System that has been defunded and denigrated for Walker’s 7+ years in office. A 0% increase budget would mean that there would be $60 million fewer state tax dollars going to the UW System in 2021 than there was 12 years ago, in 2009. And that’s before inflation. Then add in 6 years of frozen in-state tuition limiting the ability of those schools to make up the difference, and you’ve got a system that would continue to wither and have the state’s economic competitiveness decline along with it.

The same freeze applies to the Technical College System, which has 20% fewer dollars for instruction and services than it did in a decade ago. That decision to defund the Tech College System sure seems to go against Walker’s most recent ad where he tries to talk up efforts to improve the state’s work force, particularly in the trades that the Tech College System specializes in.

(By the way, the workers in the ad are employed by Walker’s donors at Weldall. Coincidence, I’m sure).

But yet road funding and other DOT duties are supposed to be frozen at 0%? In a biennium when inflation is supposed to rise by a total of around 5% in that time period? With construction costs rising even faster than that these days?

Keeping DOT funding at the already-diminished levels of 2019 means there would be no options other than more cuts to that needed service (which means more potholes). Or it means more borrowing in a time of rising interest rates, adding more constraints to a Transportation Fund that already has an unsustainable and increasing amount of debt to pay off.

Permanent metaphor for funding of roads and UW under this guy.

These realities is what makes this “0% budget increase” pose to be such a boneheaded double-whammy. The 0% limit avoids so many departments that it’s largely rendered meaningless as a cost-controlling measure, but the items that ARE kept at 0% are ones that have already been defunded and damaged during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, like roads and higher education.

Can we get an adult in charge that actually believes in governance, and recognizes that public goods need to be maintained and reinvested in. Also can that person understand that math and inflation aren’t “liberal plots”, but rules and concepts to be aware of and follow? Thanks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Retail sales decent in April. So why did Wall Street freak out?

For the second time in a few days, I found myself confused over Wall Street’s take on an economic report. Today it was the retail sales report, which came out this morning to generally strong reviews in the financial media.
U.S. retail sales rose in broad fashion last month as bigger after-tax paychecks helped compensate for rising fuel costs, signaling consumer demand was off to a firm start this quarter.

The value of sales increased 0.3 percent in April, matching the median forecast, after a 0.8 percent advance in the prior month that was stronger than initially reported, Commerce Department figures showed Tuesday.

So-called retail-control group sales, which are used to calculate gross domestic product and exclude food services, auto dealers, building materials stores and gasoline stations, improved 0.4 percent after an upwardly revised 0.5 percent gain.
So the increase was in line with what was expected, and if you dig into the report, there really wasn’t any difference than what we’ve been seeing.

It’s worth reminding you that the retail sales figures are not adjusted for inflation, so given that the CPI rose by 0.2% for April, a 0.3% for sales is barely any kind of real increase. I suppose the stronger revision from March’s report means things are better than we thought, but it’s not like things are booming to another level of growth.

In fact, it’s the higher price of gasoline that is a main culprit, as gasoline sales were up by 1.3% vs March, explaining more than 1/3 of the overall growth in sales. In fact, higher gas prices is the main item that has prevented the growth rate of sales from declining noticeably from this time last year.

12-month change, retail sales
All sales
Apr 2018 +4.7%
Mar 2018 +4.9%
Dec 2017 +5.1%
Sep 2017 +5.0%
Jun 2017 +3.0%
Apr 2017 +4.6%
Dec 2016 +3.6%

Sales MINUS gasoline
Apr 2018 +4.1%
Mar 2018 +4.4%
Dec 2017 +4.8%
Sep 2017 +4.7%
Jun 2017 +3.3%
Apr 2017 +4.1%
Dec 2016 +3.3%

Regardless of what looks to me like “meh” retail sales numbers, Wall Street thought it meant that the economy would pick up, and that prices would pick up as well. And they weren’t happy about it.
The bond market sell-off began after the government said retail sales grew at a healthy pace in April, signaling the economy started the second quarter on a positive note. Relatively weak retail sales in February and March were revised higher, another sign of firmer inflation…

Although rates remain relatively low, the speed of the move spooked some investors. The 10-year Treasury started the day at just 2.99%. And as recently as September, it was just above 2%.

Treasuries have come under selling pressure this year because of concerns that faster inflation will force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. A rapid rise of Treasury rates in late January and February caught investors off guard, causing stocks to tank.
This is the exact opposite of what Wall Streeters were thinking last week, when they claimed a 2.45% year-over-year increase meant that inflation was under control (despite it being the highest increase in over a year), and stocks went up.

A minor rally in the last 15 minutes of trading limited losses in the DOW Jones to 193 points, and the 10-year bond yield dropped back to 3.07%. But it was still a notable change from the figures what we had going into today, and given the relatively steady-but-not-spectacular retail sales figure, I’m not sure why there was such a strong reaction.

That is, unless the “wise guys” are catching up to the reality that the average person really is getting pinched by higher gas prices, especially with wage growth not being any better than last year, and sold off because they think the economy and its inflated corporate profits are going to slow down soon.

What the retail sales report tells me is that despite 3 months of higher take-home pay, there is little evidence the tax cuts are making American consumers open up their wallets, except to pay more at the pump. Keep an eye on this in the near future to see if these higher gas prices and higher interest rates start affecting through other sectors in the economy in the coming months. If it does, hold on tight, because we may start losing altitude quite quickly.

Ex-DOT Secretary says Walker avoiding reality on funding and fixing roads

Today’s Capital Times has a long article by Katelyn Ferral that discuss Wisconsin’s transportation funding situation, and includes an in-depth interview with former DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

Gottlieb was a former member of the Assembly that served as DOT Secretary from the start of Walker’s tenure in 2011 until he was forced out resigned in late December 2016. That end came after Gottlieb continued to answer questions candidly regarding the state’s deteriorating highways.

Gottlieb was echoing findings from Wisconsin’s Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, which took over a year to study the state’s entire transportation infrastructure and service needs, and released a report titled “Keep Wisconsin Moving” in January 2013.

Gottlieb says that when the Wisconsin DOT asked Walker to back up the report the findings with actual cash, it didn’t happen.
The commission, championed by Walker and created through legislation signed by him, had 10 members, eight Republicans and two Democrats. Members confirmed its findings unanimously.

In his agency’s subsequent budget request, Gottlieb, a Republican appointed by Walker, asked for money to respond to the commission’s findings.

“It was well understood at that time by the governor and other people in the governor’s office that that’s what we were going to do, that we were going to propose a budget that we felt addressed these issues. That’s what I thought we had been asked to do,” Gottlieb said. “It took the governor less than 48 hours to reject that budget.”
And why did Walker reject the need to add more funding for roads for 2014-15? Because Scotty was planning to run for president in 2016, and kissing up to anti-tax DC BubbleWorlders like Grover Norquist was more important to him than a minor responsibility like FIXING HIS STATE’S ROADS.

In each of the last two budgets, the Governor’s office and the WisGOP-controlled Legislature have talked about how they want to add more money for highways and local roads. But they have failed to come up with the extra money via taxes and fees to do so, leading to a total of $1.2 billion in borrowing and more delays on already-overdue highway projects.

As Ferral points out, even with this increase in borrowing, the amount used for highways is less than we were using before Walker took office.
Much of Walker’s “actual” dollars were borrowed dollars, according to LFB figures. And although local road aids have increased, they have come at the expense of total highway spending, which, according to LFB figures, is the lowest it has been in 10 years.

Total highway funding has been on a steady decline during Walker’s tenure, from $3.11 billion in the 2013-15 budget to $2.79 billion in 2015-17 to $2.54 billion in 2017-19, according LFB reports. Money allocated for the highway improvement program is down 8.8 percent from the last two-year budget, according to the LFB…

“Don't they claim to have cut taxes by billions of dollars? Taxes have been cut but there has been no corresponding increase in transportation revenue,” Gottlieb said. “This administration has prioritized not raising fuel taxes over maintaining the transportation system, and they need to accept the consequences of that decision.”

This map shows some of those consequences

As the instructions for Walker’s 2017-19 budget were developed, the Governor’s Office told the DOT that spending should be limited, particularly when it came to the Zoo Interchange and other heavily-traveled areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. Gottlieb said that was the last straw, because it wasn’t realistic.
“They wanted the department to submit a budget that pretended if we just went along like we were going along, everything would be fine," he said. “That is not the budget I would have submitted based upon my judgement of what was needed.”

Prescribing a specific cabinet agency’s budget request is atypical, Gottlieb and others familiar with the process say. It’s a move Gottlieb said shows how the DOT, once a relatively apolitical agency, has become increasingly politicized under Walker.

“We got to a place where the facts were being ignored in favor of political spin,” Gottlieb said.
Anyone who’s followed Scott Walker’s career knows that place is the only one he’s ever been in, where poses and politics matter more than policy and results. And that non-strategy of avoiding honest solutions continues in the instructions Walker released yesterday for the deficit-ridden 2019-21 budget.

Walker tells most agencies to assume no inflation for the next two years (when the Congressional Budget Office says inflation will get higher due to increased deficits coming out of DC), and spreads that order to the DOT, ruling out gas taxes or fee increases to pay for the roads.
• The zero-growth policy will also apply to the SEG-funded administrative operations appropriations in all agencies that are supported by the transportation fund, the conservation fund, the environmental fund and the lottery fund.

• Funding requests for other types of appropriations and other funding sources in both years should be limited to revenue availability and only the highest priority programmatic needs.

In 2017-19's budget, the funding for regular state highway repair was $225 million below what the Finance and Policy Commission said was needed, and $273 million below what the Commission said was needed for freeways outside of Milwaukee. That's on top of the shortfalls that we saw in 2015 and before then.

Also note that some projects got moved up the pike under Walker’s “leadership,” moving others even further back. Scotty had no problem with throwing $386 million to the Foxconn-sin region to upgrade those roads ($252 million for I-94 and having his DOT send $134 million to upgrade the two-lane roads in the region). But Walker wouldn’t enumerate an expansion of I-94 to 3 lanes in the fast-growing Twin Cities exurbs last year, despite the fact that the St. Croix County project wouldn’t have to be paid for until the next budget at the earliest.

Given the higher inflation and the $500 million in the hole on highways that we’re already in due to the needs that have been put off in previous years, a "0% increase" DOT budget means there we are guaranteed to see even more potholes, delays and borrowing for the next two years if the voters of this state are stupid enough to return Walker to office after November 2018.

Instead, maybe we should have a governor who recognizes that it costs money to fix the roads and have a 21st Century infrastructure, actually PAYS THOSE BILLS instead of putting it on the state’s credit card, and realizes that the full state needs to be invested in, not just the Foxconn-sin region. None of these things will happen under a 3rd term of Scott Walker, and the "politics over everything else" mentality behind of Walker's inaction have already set this state back plenty. We can't afford to lose even more.